Moroccan Nezha Zouaidi came to mining by chance in 2009, since then her journey has led her to Africa and to Tanzania where she’s the owner of a gold and diamond company, Golden Connection Ltd. Captivated by the mining industry’s dynamic and diverse environment, it’s not always been an easy ride. She’s passionate about starting something new and making it successful and Nezha says she’s enjoys representing women in historically male-dominated work environments. She’s learnt how to get herself heard and be able to have a voice and talk about issues whether it be with government agencies, workers or project managers. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you?
In 2009 I became a gold broker, it was my first contact with the industry. I was facilitating transactions between buyers and sellers. When the recession began, gold became a safe investment worldwide, increasing demand and pushing prices up. I started facing problems supplying my customers. Demand grew more rapidly than supply so I had to find a solution to meet my customers’ needs. I therefore decided to go to the source… Africa, and it’s from here that my adventure began.
How did you choose mining as a career?
Actually, it was not a choice it was sheer chance. During my trips to Africa I developed relationships with people in the industry and they convinced me to invest in mining as I was struggling to find safe sources to provide my customers with gold. Tanzania was my destination of choice for its safety and political stability.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
There is a wide range of new things to learn. It’s an adventure without limits, with opportunities and challenges. There are hard times and good times, positive and negative thinking.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
Yes, I have unfortunately encountered discrimination firstly as a foreign woman secondly owning a gold mine and finally as the top head of management. It has not always been easy to bear but I have overcome obstacles. I knew how to handle this kind of hurdle. They never called me by my name it was either “the white woman” or “the foreigner”.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
I had advisers and professionals working with me but no mentors. I started learning everything about mining. I had to learn fast so that my employees did not realize my weakness. I have gained knowledge and experience negotiating gold transactions but not enough experience in dealing with mining issues.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I do not see myself doing something else. When I had the opportunity to take this project on in 2010 I knew that would mean more responsibilities, increased stress and leading in an area where I was not very experienced. I knew these would be challenging projects, but in both cases I did not hesitate to say YES!! I am not one to sit behind a desk for hours, months, and years. Accepting this challenge means I have all reasons to do that. So it’s kind of push up for me and I love such push-ups. I was captivated with the mining industry’s dynamic environment, I like its diversity in terms of people and skills.
I always have been passionate about starting something new and making it successful. I am passionate about representing women in historically male-dominated work environments.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
My biggest challenges were to impose my way of doing things, to impose myself as a foreign woman working and leading in a man’s field, and be able to have a voice and talk about issues whether with the government agencies, workers or project managers.
What would you love to do next?
I have yet to realize many projects in partnership with different independent stakeholders such as one with the research center Verhaert (www.verhaert.com). As a consultant and partnership we will establish a new tracking system for diamond and colored gemstones. This will be done via more accurate measurements and new technologies.
More specifically, the new tracing system will solve the problems of:
- Conflict diamonds/ gemstones, abuses of human rights.
- Illegal trafficking, robbery.
- Transparency on salary of miners, cutters etc. (entire supply chain is involved and is beneficial to artisanal miners and big mining companies).
- Illegal treatments of colored gemstones and diamonds.
- More accurate identification of synthetic diamonds (poor reputation of African mining).
- Collateral via gemstones for banks and other financers (no more surprises about the value).
The system is an absolute win-win situation for mining countries, stakeholders in the industry, mining companies and the end consumer. These partners will have the ability to fully control their origin, production, manufacturing, logical tracing and business without any document. There is no possibility to fake this new traceability.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
I wish I’d had the knowledge and experience that I have now.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
I do, there are many projects on the way.
What is your opinion in the women on board debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
At board level there is still a lot to do. Women in mining show that real progress is being made. There are now multiple role models who prove that woman can and do succeed in building carriers in the mining industry.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
I definitely do believe in the strength of women and her abilities. Gender diversity is vital to the success of our businesses. The male-dominated workplace culture of the mining industry is often a major barrier for women but there are an increasing number of women joining the mining industry.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Mining is an excellent career and it needs solid people. Anyone who wants to make a career in this exciting area must take things seriously and evaluate the pros and cons.
What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?
When a woman works in male-dominated occupations she should know that she will face challenges but she must be prepared to face these and move forward towards her objectives to succeed and persevere despite each challenge.
How do you find the work/life balance?
I’m away from my family and working 200 km from the nearest city. I spend my days in the bush except Saturday. Thankfully Tanzania is a great place to live, work and do business.
Have you any hobbies or pass-times you would like to tell us about?
I do not miss any opportunity to discover and explore the amazement of African nature and the best beaches of the famous Indian Ocean. Tanzania is a fascinating country with a lot to offer whether for enjoyment or business.
Any else that you feel is important that you would like to share?
In the past mining was considered the exclusive reserve of men, probably because of the dangers associated with it. Today the sector has been opened up to more women.
Today the world over, also, women have come to play more significant roles in all aspects. In the mining industry there are now women geologists, mineral title owners, engineers, geoscientists, miners and marketers, among others. The big challenge facing women miners today is funding, few women can afford the necessary collateral to boost their businesses.
Any charitable work that you are involved with?
Every Sunday I visit children in Mbagala Orphanage in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. I spend the day helping them with the homework, reading, preparing pancakes and other things.